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After waiting five years for the chance to play for the Roosters in front of his family in Auckland, Sitili Tupouniua reveled in the glory of making a try-scoring return to his hometown on Sunday night. 

The luck of the draw, coupled with the travel restrictions caused by the pandemic, meant the Round 9 clash was the first time the Tricolours have played at Mt Smart Stadium since May of 2018, and with Tupouniua not making his NRL debut until later that year, his only prior top-flight games in Auckland had been for Tonga. 

In front of around 30 family members and countless more friends and teammates from his junior club the Marist Saints, who braved the torrential rain at Mt Smart Stadium, Tupouniua scored a second half try to help the Roosters to a 14-0 win in just his second game back from nine months out with a ACL injury. 

"I was just full of energy and happy [when I scored]. I could feel my family and everyone there," Tupouniua said. 

"There was a lot of emotion... I was so happy I scored it in front of my family.

"I have been playing NRL for a couple of years now so it’s weird that it was my first one back home.

I was happy that was my first one in Auckland though, to score a try and for the boys to get a win like that.

Sitili Tupouniua

Normally an edge forward, the 25-year-old was used as a front-rower against the Warriors and had 29 tackles to go with 89 run metres in a 35-minute stint. 

Post-match coach Trent Robinson said he was impressed by the way Tupouniua has slotted back into the pace of the NRL after such a long time out.   

"Coming back from a knee injury, usually it takes a while to get going," Robinson said. 

Warriors v Roosters - Round 9, 2023

"Sitili and Billy Smith (who suffered an ACL injury at the same time last season) have been working really hard and the way that they have been able to play has been really good, straight back after a knee injury.

"He played front row [Sunday] for us, it’s not his position, but we wanted him on the field, and he really nailed it."

Tupouniua celebrates with fans after making his return from injury in the Anzac Day win over the Dragons. ©NRL Photos
Tupouniua celebrates with fans after making his return from injury in the Anzac Day win over the Dragons. ©NRL Photos

In addition to missing the second half of the season for the Roosters last year, the injury denied Tupouniua a chance to play at the World Cup for Tonga, which he said was among the most difficult things to accept at the time. 

But he was grateful to have Smith by his side through the rehab journey, with the luckless centre having now suffered three ACL injuries in his young career. 

"It was good to have someone there that had done it a couple of times before, Tupouniua said of Smith. 

"I was following his lead and he was giving me some tips which helped.  

"But my knee feels good now and after a few more games hopefully I will continue to get more minutes." 

Acknowledgement of Country

Sydney Roosters respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.